Abstract: A Qualitative Examination of How Single Foster Parents Perceive Their Experiences with Fostering (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

722P A Qualitative Examination of How Single Foster Parents Perceive Their Experiences with Fostering

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Morgan Cooley, PhD, Asst Professor, Florida Atlantic University, FL
Justin Miller, PhD, Associate Dean for Research, Associate Professor, University of Kentucky, KY
Brittany Mihalec-Adkins, PhD Student, Indiana University - Purdue University, Fort Wayne, IN
Background: Research on single mothers in non-foster care samples is frequently characterized by economic, racial, and health inequality when compared to married parents. However, there are a number of single parents providing licensed foster care services within the foster care system with little information about their experiences. All foster parents are required to meet certain requirements in order to foster, yet it is possible that their experiences providing foster care differ from married foster parents. Married parents are also disproportionately represented in foster care research. At the initiation of this research study, no published empirical research existed to describe the experiences of single foster parents. Hence, this study provides an initial attempt at understanding how single foster parents perceive their involvement in the foster care system.


Methods: This cross-sectional study included 38 licensed foster parents who were currently not married or cohabiting with a partner. Participants were recruited from two Facebook groups. Participants emailed the primary investigator and received a link to the survey. The sample included 38 females and 1 male; identified as primarily white (n = 35); 36 identified as the sole financial provider for the household; 20 reported an income of $50,000 or less with the rest reporting an income above $50,001; and 30 participants reported having a college education. Participants were asked to provide a detailed description of their experiences fostering and how their life had changed since becoming a foster parent. Thematic analysis, using a grounded theory procedure (open, axial, selective coding), and inductive approach were used to analyze data. There were two independent coders.


Results: Analysis revealed that – almost universally – participants viewed themselves as the sole caregiver for the foster youth in their home; however, they also recognized that this was an intentional choice. Some participants lamented the lack of social support, as most did not have a romantic partner, identified respite care as difficult to arrange or even find, and some had even lost close friends or family relationships over the decision to foster. A few participants identified that other foster parents have been the biggest source of social support. The vast majority indicated that the joy of taking on this perceivably important role outweighed the personal, interpersonal, or child-related challenges they experienced. In addition, although all foster parents had to adjust to negative events or conditions related to fostering, almost all indicated that there had been positive aspects (sometimes unanticipated) to their adjustment to foster parenting.


Implications: Interestingly, there were no Black/African American caregivers in this sample, which may be due to only including licensed caregivers or using social media for recruitment. Future research should compare experiences and well-being of licensed and informal caregivers. Findings indicate that single foster parents may have a higher need for respite care or social support, particularly during emergencies, as there is no other eligible caregiver to step in during times of stress. Agencies may need to offer higher support to single foster parents.